Wednesday, August 31, 2011

 

The three social networks your company needs to build

The channels may be the same, but there are three distinct audiences and contexts you should separate and consider with a unique strategy to engage, influence and mobilize.

Employee network
How is your company leveraging social networks, channels and tools to more effectively communicate with employees? How are you using these tools to improve communications and connectivity with remote offices and teams that need to work more closely together? How are you regularly gathering and using internal feedback without disrupting workflow and productivity?

Customer network
I include prospects in this as well. This is the network where most companies devote their time currently. Avoid the impulse to move prospects too quickly through the funnel, or field aggressive offers that don't respect the audience or channel's unique expectation about content, tone and delivery.

Product network
Some of your products may need a social network of their own. Allow fans and detractors alike to share feedback openly, with you and each other. Learn from them and innovate on a daily basis. This is a missing piece of the social strategy for most companies, but done right it's a great way to get focused insights and two-way communication with customers about specific products and services you offer.

I have more to think about and share on this. If you already have a distinct strategy for these three, I'd love to hear from you (as well as the back-story of how you got it started and how you're driving & measuring success).

 

The four "other" things you can learn at your next conference

You're there to close some business, meet partners, hear speakers and network with fellow attendees. But if you look between the lines, and pay closer attention to what's going on around you, you can also absorb a ton of best (and worst) practices about running or participating in a successful conference.

For example:

Booth practices & tactics (the good, bad and ugly)
Which booths drew your attention and why? Which were you embarrassed for? Break down the booth appearance, attractiveness, giveaways, staff performance and etiquette. What ideas could you take away for your next event, and what tactics and/or behavior will you remind your team to never do again? Take notes and take pictures to remind yourself of what you've seen and want to emulate (or not) next time.

Guerilla tactics
At the Dreamforce conference this week, rival online CRM systems are here too. They're just hanging out on the sidewalks, placing ads on taxi cabs and doing other creative things to get attendee attention on the fringes of the official event. There's a fine line, of course, between being creative and getting attention, and crossing the line and being obnoxious at someone else's conference. This applies as well to those who execute guerilla tactics at their booths, in the aisles, at the conference hotels, and so on.

Panel & presentation best practices
Who gave the best presentations and why? Was it because of their content, their performance on stage, their visuals, their examples? Similarly, who was awful and why? Almost any event you attend will feature both ends of this spectrum. Follow an event's Twitter hashtag and you'll get a real-time sense for what other people think as well (and why).

Event management best practices
The details behind executing a successful event are endless. But the best conference experiences pay attention to the little things. Signs telling you where to go, people in colorful t-shirts to answer your questions, constantly refilled water dispensers at the end of trade show aisles, etc. What are the little things you noticed at your last show? What little things generated buzz from attendees (either live or via the chat boards or Twitter)?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

 

How to make the most of conference parties and networking events

Most conference agendas include one or more parties - usually sponsored by the conference host or their sponsors and exhibiting vendors. These events are a great opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of fellow attendees, but they're also an important opportunity to meet new people, add to your network, and create new business opportunities.

Here are six tips for better engaging and leveraging these parties in your favor (while at the same time enjoying yourself and having fun!).

1. Take plenty of business cards (but don't lead with them)
After-hours parties and networking events aren't meant to be all business, but you also don't want to be caught without the means of sharing your basic contact information with someone you meet. Don't lead with your card, unless the event is explicitly a card-exchange or business networking event. But after sharing conversation, if you're interested in following up afterward, make it easy for the other party to do so.

2. Dress down (a little) but remain professional
If the networking event is right after the formal meeting and in the same location, you can assume the same business or business casual attire is fine. But if the party is at a separate time or location, feel free to dress down a bit. If you were wearing slacks with jacket or suit, for example, jeans are probably OK. But don't go crazy. Jeans with your shirt and jacket (no tie), for example, says dressed-down but still professional. And you can always lose the jacket if you need to look even more casual, depending on the event and surroundings.

3. Be polite but proactive
As you work the room, make eye contact and say hello to those you pass. Introduce yourself proactively and offer a handshake. If you approach a circle of folks already engaged in conversation, wait until a lull in the conversation or until you've been invited to introduce yourself. Respect the room and existing relationships and conversations, but be proactive about getting in there and meeting new people. That's why you're there!

4. Remember and write down names, contexts and deliverables
Over the course of the night, you'll likely meet a lot of interesting people. But it's important to remember who they are, where they're from, and any context about the conversation (or things you offered to share with or send them later) for your follow-up. If you get a business card, write the context or deliverable on the back. As a back-up, carry a piece of paper or notebook to write down their name, email and what you promised to send their way later (offering to send something also gives you the "cover" necessary to write this down without looking too geeky).

5. Focus on them, and ask good questions
The easiest way to get people talking is to ask questions. What they do, why they're at the conference, what have they learned so far, etc. Have a few standard, starter questions ready and keep watch, in their answers, for things they're particularly passionate about. The more they talk about themselves, the more memorable you will be for asking (and the most likely you'll find something based on those interests you can follow up with afterward).

6. Don't overdo it
Nobody makes a good impression at parties by getting drunk. It's difficult to impossible to execute the above opportunities when you can't think or speak straight. Have a drink. Or two. Enjoy yourself. Just know your limits, and don't let yourself get in a position you might be regret the next day.

 

Why attending events in person is still so important

I'll spend the majority of this week away from the office, attending the annual Dreamforce conference. There are many reasons why this trip is a good use of my time, but in general I'm a big fan of regularly finding events that get me out of my office, away from my usual environment, and somewhere I can accelerate my business, my own learning, and my value to our clients all at the same time.

I love the growing trend of online-only conferences, as well as the ever-present availability of Webinars to help me learn. But nothing will replace the value of being there live. Five reasons for this.

Get that "out of office" perspective
Away from the regular tugs at your time, the same four walls you stare at, you can have a different perspective. You'll naturally think about things differently. You'll have an entirely new set of stimuli (visual, auditory, written) to spark creativity and innovation. You can get this even by attending an event in your home town. No matter how you do it, getting outside of your regular environment is worth it more often. Why do you think teams go "offsite" for executive meetings and brainstorms? Same reason.

Focus on new opportunities (with your complete attention)
If you're going to an event or conference in person, do yourself a favor and give it your full attention. Don't travel across the country only to stay in your hotel room and on "regularly scheduled" conference calls you could have just done from your office. A couple of these are fine, but otherwise let yourself be immersed in the event itself with your full attention. This can mean sitting through keynotes and panels, focusing time on the trade show floor, scheduling blocks of time with important partners or customers or new faces, etc. You won't have these opportunities anywhere or anytime else. Take advantage of them now.

Meet new people & deepen existing relationships
I love my social networks, my LinkedIn and my entire online system for meeting new people and maintaining relationships. But nothing can replace doing it with a handshake, a smile, and seeing the whites of their eyes. Whether you do it in the lobby of the conference hotel, on the trade show floor, at the evening parties or even while playing golf, these are the relationships that go deeper, that develop long-term preference and business value for you over time. It's differentiating, in your favor, in a way that online networking can never be.

Talk to the vendors
Yes, they want to sell you something. And some will either be too aggressive or ignore you. But every vendor on the show floor knows something that you don't. It's your job to learn from them. Ask them questions about their slice of the industry, what they're seeing from their customers, what they see moving forward. Try to find the product managers in the booth who spend most of their time listening to customers and translating those needs into new product features. They'll often have the best insights into what's now and what's next.

Use the casual moments to your advantage
Set up quick coffee meetings with people you've just met, or haven't seen in awhile. If you need to catch up on email, do so in the hotel lobby or in an otherwise public place so you're move likely to run into something you want to talk to. Invite new people to lunch or dinner or drinks to get to know them better, and learn from them. If you do eat alone, do so at a location close to the conference and eat at the bar. You'll likely be sitting next to someone else from the conference you can talk to and learn from. Take a long, early-morning walk and take a notepad or digital recorder to record new ideas, priorities for the day, etc. There are countless ways to squeeze more value out of the more casual moments when you travel.

What about you? If you still attend events live, why do you do it? What value do you get, and what else do you prioritize on those trips to increase value for yourself and your business?

Monday, August 29, 2011

 

How to turn your user conference into a must-attend industry event

This week, tens of thousands of B2B sales & marketing people will descend upon Moscone Center for Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference. What began in 2003 as a small user conference in a nearby hotel this year will likely exceed 25,000 attendees and almost 300 exhibitors.

Dreamforce has become a case study in transforming a customer-only conference into a must-attend industry event. How did they do it? And how could you do it for your customer events as well? Here are a few ingredients to Salesforce.com's success.

Content
Although much of the content and many of the breakout sessions focus on features and functionality, there's plenty of content that's also focused on helping B2B sales & marketing professionals better at their jobs overall. This year's Dreamforce features a host of sessions on sales strategy, word of mouth tactics, search marketing innovations and more. If you're not a Salesforce.com developer or administrator, there's still a ton of things to learn.

Speakers
From the keynote speakers to the panelists, it's clear that Dreamforce puts effort into ensuring attendees walk away with high-quality information from the field's most innovative and successful thinkers and doers. Recent keynotes have featured General Colin Powell, President Bill Clinton and this year Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Networking
You can tell when a conference has crossed the chasm from user conference to must-attend event when many people go just for the networking. I'd be willing to bet that Salesforce.com's own attendee figures are low, as there will be plenty who fly into town simply to meet and do business with those who are also there. This includes the plethora of parties hosted each night by several vendors and sponsors.

Location
Salesforce.com is based in San Francisco, so Moscone Center is almost a given. But many companies prefer to host user conferences in their home town. If it's hard to get to, expensive to get to, or generally out of the way, your attendance will suffer. At minimum, get a great price on a hotel conference center in Vegas to give attendees an extra reason (or three) to come down.

Attention to Detail
It's very clear that Dreamforce is meticulously planned, down to the small details. Despite the huge and growing crowds each year, it continues to get easier to find where you're going, ask someone for directions, plan your entire visit weeks in advance via online scheduling and calendar tools, etc.

If you're attending Dreamforce this week, I'd love to hear why you think it's a must-attend event as well.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

 

Anatomy of a better pre-event email

I'm attending Dreamforce this coming week, and apparently a whole lot of companies know that.

Over the past two weeks, I've received literally dozens of emails from companies targeting Dreamforce attendees. It's been an interesting study in different strategies, objectives and perspectives in engaging an audience before you (potentially) see them live at an event.

It's also helped me hone some specific best practices that could help each of these companies (and yours as well) drive greater response and performance from pre-event emails. Done right, these emails can increase success at the event as well as drive additional revenue opportunities before, during and after.

Here are four things I've specifically noticed and/or would recommend to drive greater performance.

Send email from a person, not a company
I'm much more likely to open an email from a person (whose name is in the "from" line, whose email address shows up there, and who signed the email too) than an email from a company with an "info@" email address. I'm also much more likely to respond directly to an email from a person vs. a company (and would expect a reply from that person too, which hasn't happened consistently either).

Put some news in the subject line
I know you want me to meet with you. But that in the subject line isn't going to get me to engage. I've even seen subject lines in the past week that literally give the dates and location of the event. How is that driving open rates? Instead, use something to entice me. Tease a giveaway, give me a benefit worth stopping by to learn more about. You can't make a subject line communicate everything, and it's main goal is to get the email opened, but start with something that gets my attention and piques my interest.

Get me to pre-register for something
I really like the pre-event emails that allow me to self-select greater interest. They either invite me to a private briefing or to schedule when I'll stop by the booth. The majority of email recipients won't respond to this, but that's not the point. If you can get a handful of attendees committed to stopping by, your booth performance immediately is better than just hoping passers-by are the people you want to meet, and who want to meet you too.

But don't force me to commit
As much as I prefer the pre-registration option above, I also don't want to commit. I have enough meetings planned for this week already, I don't necessarily want or need to schedule something when I can stop by anytime during open show floor hours. I may not want to commit, but that doesn't mean I'm less interested or less qualified.

A different tactic to engage prospects like this could be to simply have them pre-register for a visit without a specific time. Tell prospects you'll have a special gift reserved for them when they come, whenever that is. Then, have that list at the booth so you can fulfill that offer. This tactic gives you a registered list of more interested prospects, gives me (the attendee) more flexibility, but puts you at the top of my "need to visit" priority list for the show floor.



Saturday, August 27, 2011

 

Are you sure you want my business?

I get that the economy isn't great. Demand for products & services in many markets is low. But I'm convinced there's still plenty of business out there for most of us. Unfortunately, even when it's right in front of you, we don't always execute well.

Just in the past two months, I've explicitly expressed interest (buying interest, short-term pipeline closeable business interest) in the following things:

In the case of the home improvement project, we were promised a proposal and estimate and haven't heard anything back. This from a contractor who has done business with us before (and done outstanding work) and who I know isn't happy with his bottom line this year.

For the holiday party, similar situation. Great event last year, it was their business to lose this year. Had a promise of details and an estimate, but no follow up.

I did get a couple copywriters replying to the job post, but replies three weeks after the posting was way too late.

There's business out there. Money is ready to change hands. But you have to want it, be hungry for it, and do the little things to manage and be proactive with your pipeline to close more business.

Friday, August 26, 2011

 

Are you prepared for the holiday rush (or slowdown)?

I know, it's still warm out. And the kids are just getting back to school. But as soon as we're done with Labor Day, you know the holiday sales are going to start creeping into our lives - in the mail, online, at the mall, etc.

For your business, the holidays probably means one of two things - you're getting ready for the holiday rush, or you're getting ready for the holiday slowdown.

Both of these are opportunities to capture attention and interest from your customers (and prospects) and drive higher sales. But to do that effectively, you have to start early. That doesn't mean start your holiday sales next week, but have a plan in place that works over the next few weeks and months to exceed your goals come December 31st.

To help, we're hosting two Webinars next month featuring best practices and specific recommendations for both groups:

Sales & Marketing Strategies for the Holiday Rush
Wednesday, Sept 7, 9:00 a.m. Pacific
Register Here

Sales & Marketing Strategies for the Holiday Slowdown
Thursday, Sept 15, 9:00 a.m. Pacific
Register Here

Both will be recorded, but I hope you can make one or both of these to help your business prepare for the holiday opportunity.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

 

How to manage your sales pipeline in 15 minutes a day

Yes, it’s possible to have a healthy and active sales pipeline and still spend very little time managing it. Whether you’re running a business or managing a monthly sales quota, the last thing you want to do is spend hours a day managing your processes and forecasts. Your time is best spent with clients and prospects, in front of them, not in front of your spreadsheets or CRM software.

Fortunately, with the right preparation and systems, you can successfully manage your sales pipeline in 15 minutes a day or less. Here are six steps we encourage our clients to follow, and that I follow myself for our sales pipeline as well.

1. Start with clear definitions & next steps by stage
You absolutely must create and document clear, consistent definitions for each stage of the buying process for your customers. Ideally, you should identify and enumerate specific qualified lead stages, then a separate set of stages that reflect the process of buying once a prospect is qualified and in the near-term market to buy.

If you’re the only person selling for the organization, these definitions will still save you time by not having to think about how to categorize new prospects, or figure out next steps to move them forward. If you’re working in a larger organization where multiple individuals touch the sales process, these definitions will save you significant time and money (not to mention increase your ability to close) by ensuring consistency across the organization.

Click here for a sample template of lead and sales opportunity definitions you can customize and use for your business.

2. Use a consistent CRM tool (even if it’s Excel)
You can’t successfully and efficiently manage your sales pipeline in email or on Post-It notes. Your defined sales stages, and the prospects within them, need to be encapsulated in a clean customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Some businesses look to cloud-based tools such as Salesforce.com for this. If you want an online system but aren’t ready for Salesforce, you can try simpler and less expensive (but still good) systems such as PipelineDeals.com. Or, set up an Excel spreadsheet with enough fields to detail information about the company, engaged individuals, their stage in the sales process and specific next steps.

No matter what you use, make sure it’s easy and fast to update and accessible everywhere. That means a cloud-based system that’s available with any Web connection, or an Excel spreadsheet that’s based in the cloud and updatable from anywhere as well (using services such as Dropbox or Box.net).

3. Develop a discipline for adding new prospects daily
The single-most important component of a healthy sales pipeline is engaging and nurturing more prospects at the top of the funnel. The vast majority of these prospects aren’t going to be ready to buy, but it’s important that you find and engage with them early, so they know who you are, know what you do, and keep you top of mind for when they do have a need and want to buy.

Get in the habit of networking and adding daily. Look for new prospects via newspaper articles, press releases, LinkedIn Updates, etc. Have a set of pre-written email introductions and offers (an article you’ve written that could help them, for example), so that reaching out and engaging new prospects is fast and easy.

4. Conduct a weekly pipeline review for next steps
At least once a week, scan through your pipeline and look for prospects who you haven’t talked to lately. The hot prospects will automatically fill your time anyway – they’re engaged, asking questions, in your inbox and on your phone. But the prospects who have slowed down, or disappeared in the past few days or week, might need a follow-up.

As you identify follow up opportunities, you don’t need to do them all right away. Scheduled them out for the remainder of the week so you have a couple to do today, a couple more tomorrow, and so on.

If you need inspiration for ways to re-engage with prospects that have gone “dark”, check out a few recommendations here.

5. Schedule daily follow-up calls to past clients, partners and previously-lost prospects
In a world that’s obsessed with email and texting and Twitter, there’s something special about making a phone call. Taking the time to call a past client or partner, just to check in and see how they’re doing, all of a sudden stands out and is memorable.

Most of the time, you’re just leaving voicemails anyway. But with those 30-45 seconds, you make an impression that’s far more valuable than a quick email or text that’s easy to delete and gets lost with the rest.

6. Use your calendar for follow-up reminders
If a prospect isn’t ready and wants you to check back “next month” or “at the end of the summer”, set yourself a calendar reminder to do so…and forget about them! If they need you in the meantime, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, spend your time following up with other new or existing prospects who want or need your time and attention right now.

Systems for making yourself more efficient come in a variety of formats. Having consistent definitions makes you faster, because you don’t have to think about or recreate standards every time. An easy to use and accessible CRM system makes organization and updates quick. Even something as simple as a trusted calendar lets you set a next step and move on.

We could devote a whole series of blogs to effective sales pipeline management, but as with most things, the basics are what will give you momentum.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

 

What my kids are teaching me about marketing & leadership

I have a two-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son. They've changed my life, and if you're a parent too you know what I mean. Every day, they challenge and inspire me. And despite their age and development stage, they're teaching me a lot about myself, my priorities and also how to be a better marketer and leader.

Here are ten things I'm learning from them.

1. Pay attention to what's going on (but give them room)
I don't want to be the kind of parent who's always within five feet of my kids. I want them to be safe, I want them to feel safe, and I don't want them to get into trouble. But I also need to give them room to breath, room to explore, and room to learn lessons (sometimes the hard way) on their own.

Managing a marketing campaign or a team is similar. You know what you want done. You know what you want the result to look like. But you can't micro-manage that too closely. Oftentimes things will play out on their own just fine, in some cases better than you expected or could have anticipated. Paying attention but giving room will also give your team (as well as other elements of your execution) room to innovate, self-correct and improve on their own, so that they're that much smarter and more on target the next time around.

2. Give your full attention when needed
My daughter, more than anything, just wants my full attention. When I come home at night, we play together for 10-15 minutes. Uninterrupted. No email, no phone calls, no TV. Just the two of us doing whatever she wants.

In the grand scheme of things (and my weekday evening), 15 minutes isn't much. But for my daughter it's a very big deal. We all have a lot of priorities tugging at us at all times. It's easy and feels important sometimes to multitask. Just identify those times when focusing in on one thing (or one person) is not only more important but will generate greater results for you long-term.

3. Give choices (but be specific)
Choices are good. Too many choices can be bad. My two-year-old not only sometimes needs choices, but she needs specific choices. If she doesn't want anything, somehow (magically) she'll still choose between two specific options I lay out for her. In her mind, I'm giving her options but also structure. I'm helping to guide her towards a specific path. She wants that structure, but still feels in control by choosing one of two things.

Too often in our marketing, we either don't offer specific options, or offer too many. Your customers and prospects want choices, but they'll tune out if you make them work too hard, and evaluate or think about too many options. Make it easy for them. Give them no more than 2-3 options based on what you know they need. Be specific too, and you'll increase activity and conversion (let alone satisfaction).

4. Be disciplined
My kids are both on schedules. They nap at around the same time every day. They need a lot of sleep, and it's important we give them the time and place for that. Our lives revolve around their schedules, and at this point in their lives that's just fine. There are weekends when their schedules don't map to what we want to do, but that's too bad. Their schedules are more important right now.

It takes discipline to stick to this, but it's the best thing for our kids. We're following a plan that's both premeditated and proven. If you have the same for your marketing strategy, stay disciplined and focused on execution against a particular plan. Of course, sometimes even the best-laid plans change...

5. Plans are made to be broken
My daughter takes a nap around noon. Except when she won't fall asleep until 1:00 p.m. Or except when she wakes up before 5:30 a.m. and gets really tired around 11:15 a.m. again.

Discipline is good, schedules are good, but they're bound to change. Do you have a back-up plan when they do? The best-laid plans (for kids or your marketing) are bound to go awry. There's no such thing as flawless execution. How will you react? Adjustments are necessary, but keep the end-goal in mind at all times to ensure that the results (as best as possible) are still achieved, even if you go to Plan B (or C).

6. Watch for messes
Sometimes things no only go against plan, but they get messy. Blow-outs. Slipped milk. Scraped knees. How you react and respond will be watched closely. Is it their fault that the milk spilled? Is it the baby's fault that the diaper couldn't hold their latest "performance"?

Reaction includes not only cleaning up or fixing the mess, but also the means and attitude by which you react to it. With kids, you're all in it together. With your team, the company overall, and even with your customer or prospect community, the same "in it together" perspective applies. These are defining moments of leadership.

7. Routines & process are a good thing
Once you know something works, do it again and again to achieve similar results. My daughter loves the same bed-time routine every night. Bath time, brush teeth, jammies, books, prayers, bed. She knows the routine, she expects it, and it works to help her wind down and get to sleep.

In our work, routines and process can make life easier. They can generate consistent results. Adjustments may be necessary, eventually, but on a day-to-day basis routines and process save us time, money and headache.

8. Meltdowns are inevitable
Your kids are gonna get upset sometimes. Your customers, same thing. Some of the time, their reaction is going to be (or at least feel) completely irrational. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen, just let them calm down.

Trying to reason with them, at least in the middle of the meltdown, isn't going to help. They don't want more input. They don't want you to try and proven that you're right. They just need to get it out of their system. Once they've calmed down, you can work towards a mutually-beneficial resolution, then have a hug and get some ice cream. The hug and ice cream will work for your kids, too.

9. Its going to be stressful, guaranteed
You are going to lose sleep. Your team (including your spouse and fellow team members) are going to get cranky. Things aren't going to go as planned. Tensions will be high.

Take a deep breath. It's going to be OK. You have a plan, you have the right processes and routines in place, you have contingency plans for when things start to go awry. The stress you feel is inevitable, but it's going to be worse if you're not prepared and don't have a plan for how to deal with it and get through it.

10. Relax & enjoy the ride
Seriously, you wanted this. And even in the most stressful situations, you love it. You love your kids. You're passionate about your work. You know this is a journey towards something amazing, something that will be more than worth it.

When the clouds part for blue skies, when the kids are napping or when you have a few quiet moments with your team, remind yourself how lucky you are, how blessed you are to have those around you and the opportunities to succeed. The next storm is coming, but you're ready. And you wouldn't have it any other way.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

 

Template for defining sales lead and opportunity stages

Before you can manage your sales process, you need to know exactly what that sales process looks like. Ideally, your sales process maps to the way your prospective customers engage and want to buy. But no matter how you get there, mapping out the specific, common steps prospects take on their way towards a relationship with you will not only save you time but increase your ability to manage and close more business.

Most small organizations don't yet have their sales process mapped in this level of detail. But even large organizations often fail to create consistent definitions of the sales process by which the sales and marketing teams can operate.

Without these definitions, every salesperson may have a different idea of what a qualified opportunity looks like. Your pipeline reports can never accurately tell you when business might close. The marketing team delivers inconsistent leads, and is unsure of their role after the lead is created.

Below is a template for enumerating the qualified lead and opportunity stages inherent in your sales process. If you're operating in an existing and/or mature sales organization, this tool may simply be a way to document what you're already doing. But I'd bet there are still inconsistencies in assumptions and definitions across your organization that this tool will help flesh out.

I like this tool not only because it spans both the lead and opportunity stages (thereby reflecting stages in both marketing and sales), but it also makes explicit what the role of sales & marketing is at each stage to help the prospect move forward.


Monday, August 22, 2011

 

9 ways to keep innovation alive in your marketing organization

When your company has an existing, proven method of conducting business, it can be a struggle to keep innovation alive. But innovation is a key factor in driving both real-time and future success, especially marketing in today's fast-changing and customer-driven world. Here are nine recommendations to motivate innovation throughout your marketing organization.

1. Encourage and reward (or require) teamwork
Creativity and ingenuity are occasionally products of the individual, but adding the ideas and resourcefulness of others or an entire group can accelerate innovation. Brainstorming sessions work to produce this effect, and collaborating on ideas in groups can help bring a project from the beginning stages to completion with the best results and breakthrough new ideas.

2. Prioritize diversity
Your team can bring to the table numerous, advantageous differences in culture, experience, expertise, thinking styles, and perspective. Use these as a catalyst and instigator (in a good way!) to innovation in your marketing strategy.

3. Stay flexible, and look to the future
Keep an eye on real-time marketing trends and be ready to act as soon as they start to change, or before. By forecasting trends, you'll be ready for the next big thing. This helps keep innovation alive in the marketing organization and is a great way to keep the ideas flowing.

4. Create a process for cultivating new ideas and marketing projects
Use this process (whatever works best for you) to build and evaluate new ideas. Just don’t make it too complicated. Innovation doesn't take place on a piece of paper, but it's a good place to start and keep a good inventory for regular triage. By keeping it simple, implementing such a process will be a great way to keep the marketing organization fresh and constantly thinking.

5. Let everyone contribute, even (or especially) employees outside of the marketing department
Other employees may have insight on new, innovative ways to reach your target audience. Too often, their ideas fall on deaf ears if they're voiced at all. Create open opportunities for employees throughout the organization to share their thinking in a safe, unbiased environment.

6. Track progress
Track the progress of everything. From individual performance to entire projects, everything should be treated as an experiment with regular reports and careful evaluations. This way, as soon as performance begins to decline, you'll know right away and will be able to address issues right away.

7. Create an incentive program
Reward employees for their ingenuity, creativity and performance. You can use small incentives, like gift certificates, to reward everything from novel ideas to outstanding performance on a project, and you can use bigger incentives, like an "employee of the month" award or bonuses, to reward your most consistent innovators.

8. Change things up
In a smaller company, cross-train your employees so that everyone understands at least a little about each department in the office. In a larger company with an established marketing department, switch the teams, groups and/or responsibilities up so that the same people aren't always covering the same projects or focus areas.

9. Reinforce what others know by teaching and training
Have your employees train their co-workers on skill sets they have particularly depth in. This will inspire others in the organization to help generate new ideas by using the knowledge your employees already have.



Friday, August 19, 2011

 

Ten tips for writing a great press release

As a pseudo-news story, a press release is an important marketing tool for businesses seeking to gain publicity through the media (in addition to driving awareness and traffic from across the Web). Writing a great press release is challenging, but can pay off with both increased media interest and online sharing of the content through social media sites and blogs.

Here are ten tips for writing press releases that grab the attention of journalists and reporters.

1. Develop a Boilerplate
Press releases often contain a brief paragraph that describes your company, known as a boilerplate. This information helps journalists familiarize themselves with your business, and adds to the professional presentation of your media release. Boilerplates are usually placed at the end of the body of the content, before the contact information.

2. Stick to Newsworthy Content
Also known as a media release or news release, make sure that the content in your press release is really newsworthy. You need to convince the reader that your information is news and not marketing copy. Remember that reporters are not interested in promoting your latest product or service, they want content that is news.

3. Answer the Five "W's" & How
Write your press release like a news story. Your headline and first paragraph should include the most important facts and figures, followed by supporting information. Be sure to answer who, what, when, where, and why, as well as how, in your press release. It can be helpful to brainstorm the answers to these questions when developing a rough draft or outline for a media release.

4. Avoid Technical Jargon
Remember that your target audience are journalists, bloggers, and other media members who may not be experienced in your industry. Use plain language when describing technical terms and processes that can be understood by the public, because reporters are unlikely to spend time researching complicated concepts and ideas to interpret the meanings for their readers.

5. Use Quotes From Real People
Newspapers and media outlets love to use quotes, so make sure to use quotations from a spokesperson who is available and willing to conduct follow-up interviews. Never invent a fictitious person to attribute quotes to in a press release.

6. Write 400 Words or Less
The purpose of a press release is to generate interest from the media, and inspire journalists and bloggers to contact your company for more information. Keeping your content short and to the point makes it more likely to be read and shared through blogs and social media. Reporters are busy people, and they do not have the time to read lengthy articles in search of their next story.

7. Use Perfect Spelling and Grammar
Nothing undermines the credibility of a press release quicker than misspelled words, incorrect grammar and just plain poor writing. Use a good word processing program, and have another person proofread your release before publishing.

8. Create a Headline
Once you have completed your press release, create a short and interesting headline that both grabs attention and tells the reader what your press release is about. Writing the headline after the content is complete is a good idea, because writers can develop a headline that fits the story instead of trying to fit the story to a headline.

If possible, keep the headline short enough to be shared on Twitter along with a link to the story. Press release headlines are normally written in full capital letters, rather than simply capitalizing the first letter of each word.

9. End The Article With ###
The end of a press release is usually signified with three hash marks, or number signs, placed below the boilerplate and above the contact information. Using these symbols will increase the professional appearance of your release, making it more likely that professional journalists will find your information creditable. Alternatively, some writers use the symbol "-30-" or "-end-" to tell the reader the release is ended.

10. Include Contact Information
The final bit of information following the "###" symbols should be a one or two-line statement inviting journalists to contact your company for more information. This is the place to include the name, title, phone number, and email address of the media liaison for your business.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

 

Keep an active social media presence in 15 minutes a day

Eight minutes in the morning. Seven minutes in the afternoon. That's all you need.

Yes, you can spend significantly more time in your social channels - chatting with friends, meeting new people, learning new things. But you can also stay active and reap the benefits of online networking and engagement with just 15 minutes a day of your time.

The trick is to use that time more efficiently, and focus your activity in three places: 1) create, 2) curate, and 3) engage.

Create
Add new value to the social Web. This includes posting links to your new blog posts, updates on your product strategy or life, or other recently-discovered or uncovered nuggets of information that your network will find interesting. I recommend setting these up to stagger out or go out automatically. For example, use dlvr.it to automatically syndicate new blog posts from your RSS feed to a designated set of social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, even Foursquare).

Curate
Add links to content you find elsewhere on the Web. Attribute it back to the originator, either via a retweet or by adding "via @theirname" at the end of your short post. If you choose to find and publish multiple such curated articles at once, use a service such as timely.is to automatically publish and throttle this content throughout the day, based on the # of daily posts you specify as well as a determination (by timely's algorithms) of when exactly each day your posts are most likely to get noticed, read, retweeted, discussed, etc.

Engage
Scan through the posts of others in your network, and respond where appropriate. If they write back and you don't get to their comment until the next morning or later that afternoon, it's not a big deal. Better to stay engaged in a few hours than spend chunks of your entire day checking and checking (and not getting real work done).

With practice, I bet you can get this done in 15 minutes a day.


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